While working on another piece about Iowa politics highlights from the year, I decided to start a new Bleeding Heartland tradition. Writing is a labor of love for me, as for many bloggers, but let’s face it: not all posts are equally lovable.
Any blogger will confirm that posts attracting the most readers are not necessarily the author’s favorites. The highest-traffic Bleeding Heartland post of 2015–in fact, the highest-traffic post in this blog’s history–was just another detailed account of a message-testing opinion poll, like many that came before. Word to the wise: if you want a link from the Drudge Report, it helps to type up a bunch of negative statements about Hillary Clinton.
Sometimes, committing to a topic leads to a long, hard slog. I spent more time on this critique of political coverage at the Des Moines Register than on any other piece of writing I’ve done in the last decade. But honestly, the task was more depressing than enjoyable.
Other pieces were pure pleasure. Follow me after the jump for my top fifteen from 2015.
Choosing fifteen posts out of more than 500 I wrote this year was not easy. Honorable mentions: hitting the key points from the Iowa Supreme Court’s unanimous ruling on “telemedicine” abortions, making the case against term limits for Iowa lawmakers, celebrating our state’s professional and fair-minded county recorders, picking apart Steve Deace’s “Jewish deli owner” excuse for discriminating against LGBT couples, challenging an intervention by EMILY’s List in the first Congressional district primary, and poring over an audit of a top Branstad administration lawyer’s non-compliance with state polices (I’m weird that way).
The following posts made the final cut.
This post on two dangerous invasive species was a departure from my usual focus on native plants for the wildflower series. It struck a chord with me, and judging by the feedback I received, many readers were likewise fascinated by potentially deadly plants growing in our midst.
Inspired by a phrase in a Todd Dorman column for the Cedar Rapids Gazette, this post provided an opportunity to revisit one of the biggest lies of the 2010 election cycle in Iowa.
You might say, “But desmoinesdem, Iowa caucus-goers don’t care whether state legislators support this or that presidential candidate.” I agree: State Senator Brad Zaun’s decision to back Donald Trump for president after Scott Walker had dropped out was not an important event. However, as an excuse to examine twists and turns in Zaun’s political career, the Trump endorsement proved too tempting to ignore.
Number 12: Iowa town abandons dumbest fundraising idea ever.
I still can’t believe a group of adults approved a plan to sell raffle tickets for the right to use a taser on a Van Meter city official. What could go wrong? The reason they wanted to raise money for personnel and police equipment Van Meter didn’t need, to fight crime that wasn’t happening or anticipated, was also amazing. I am grateful to MacKenzie Elmer, whose series of reports for the Des Moines Register made that post possible.
What I thought would be a couple of routine phone calls or e-mails to confirm that the Iowa Utilities Board had in fact transferred funds to energy research centers at Iowa State University and the University of Iowa became a bit of an adventure. I still laugh thinking about some staffer going through the day’s mail and finding a check for $4,375,689.08 in an ordinary envelope.
It was hard to pick just one favorite from the “Throwback Thursday” series I launched in August. I don’t know why I never thought to write posts like these before. Several Throwback Thursdays are already in the works for 2016, and I welcome reader suggestions for blasts from the past to explore. After a federal judge struck down Idaho’s “ag gag” law, a misleading comment from Governor Terry Branstad’s press secretary inspired me to look into how the Iowa Attorney General’s Office viewed our state’s 2012 statute prohibiting “agricultural production facility fraud.” For reasons I was not able to determine, Iowa lawmakers did not follow advice from the AG’s staff on how to make Iowa’s law easier to defend in court. I still hope to follow up on this post, if I can ever get one of the key state senators involved to respond to my request for comment.
Pat Rynard staged a brilliant send-up of Representative Steve King’s idiotic claim that the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling on marriage equality meant “You could marry your lawnmower.” Sad to say, the morning team at WQAD didn’t get the joke. They ran the story as straight news: “a man in Des Moines tried to marry his lawnmower.” WQAD’s Eric Sorensen then mocked Rynard on the air, with his colleagues joining the banter. After I saw the clueless journalist bragging about his “take-down” in a Facebook post, I couldn’t resist writing my own take-down.
Fallout from Bruce Harreld’s hiring as University of Iowa president consumed a lot of my creative energy this fall. I’ve written more about the university during the last four months than during the previous eight and a half years combined. This post advised Harreld to “stop passing yourself off as the sole author of published works to which others contributed.” To my knowledge, Bleeding Heartland was the first to report Harreld’s failure to credit co-authors for most of the publications listed on his resume. The ethical lapse became a talking point at a Faculty Senate meeting where members voted no confidence in the Board of Regents and was later cited in a motion to censure Harreld, approved by the university’s Faculty Assembly of the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences.
Although big-name endorsements don’t matter to most caucus-goers, this powerful group’s support for the New Jersey governor was worth a close look, because of its potential to influence certain Iowa donors, politicians, and journalists. Ledes have never been my strong suit, but I am fond of this one: “From a liberal’s perspective, Bruce Rastetter is the closest thing Iowa has to a James Bond villain.”
Representative King has provided ample material for Bleeding Heartland over the years. This time, his nationally newsworthy offensive remarks hit a nerve, so instead of just explaining why many American Jews did not welcome Congressional leaders’ invitation to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, I seized the chance to expand on ideas from a 2009 post on “why Jews are liberals.”
One of my blogging regrets for the year is not keeping up with news on Medicaid privatization, a scandal on many levels that will hurt vulnerable people. WellCare losing its contract to manage care for some 125,000 Iowa Medicaid recipients was too good a story to pass up.
The Des Moines Register’s slut-shaming of Nancy Sebring bothered me in 2012, though I never got around to writing about it at the time. When the editors had another go at the former Des Moines Public Schools superintendent this summer, a rare Bleeding Heartland rant was born. I wrote this post almost in one sitting on a Saturday, and it was a real struggle to hold it back until Monday morning. For the first time and probably the last time, I published a piece using the word “bitch” not as part of a quotation.
The hounding of Republican consultant Liz Mair over tweets that offended some Iowans inspired this post about hyper-sensitive pols and “clickbait” masquerading as Iowa caucus news coverage.
This commentary on two of my biggest pet peeves related to the Iowa caucuses grew out of a Washington Post article by John Wagner and Philip Rucker. One Iowa Democratic county chair told the Post she was “waiting to see how aggressively pursued I am,” while another county chair bragged about multiple conversations with Barack Obama before the 2008 caucuses, noting, “We really are that spoiled.” A few friends have told me they started using the phrase “prairie prima donnas” after reading this post.
This was not a close call. Nothing I wrote this year was as much fun as recounting that time a sitting state senator called me a traitor, twice. You’d never guess why, even if I gave you 100 chances.